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You’ve Got A Friend In Me

You’ve Got A Friend In Me

The Nopo makers celebrate the International Day of Friendship by sharing the highs and lows of building a business with your bestie

As someone who has traveled and lived across four continents and finds herself with friends scattered around several countries, I am a strong believer in the power of friendship, more than any other kind of relationship, to be long-lasting, meaningful, and truly transformative.

The Nopo itself was founded on the pillars of a healthy and durable friendship – shared passions, willingness to commit, open and clear communication – and many of our amazing makers are actually pairs, trios - or in one case a quintuplet - of friends who, pushed by a common vision managed to turn their friendship into successful businesses.

The road to get there is perilous though, and many have run the risk to lose it all. We’ve caught up with a few of them to find out about their top tips for working with a friend and how to stay sane in such an intense partnership.

IDYR Design - Fadwa & Amal

DYR Design is made up of biologist & engineer duo Fadwa and Amal. Both students of FST Mohammedia University in Morocco, Amal was the Project Manager at Enactus, a University-run social entrepreneurship forum, when Fadwa joined in 2015, and the two immediately clicked.

"We were definitely the two hardest workers,” Fadwa remembers with a laugh, “And there was immediate trust and respect between us.”

As part of her engineering degree, Amal had been looking at how to make production processes more sustainable, and with the work, she did at Enactus with Fadwa, they identified an issue: most women in Moroccan artisan communities knew how to weave and sew, but had no idea how to market themselves or their products. They were working with middlemen who ended up making bigger profits than them and they were unaware of the international success the Boucherouite style of weaving - using scraps of old fabric - was having at the time.
“Women in Morocco had been using this sustainable process for centuries, upcycling fabric and turning it into amazing rugs, so we asked how we could help them to help themselves with marketing and design support.”

Because her grandmother was a weaver, Amal had grown up surrounded by fabric, while Fadwa had had a passion for fashion since childhood. Bonding over this shared interest, the two set up IDYR Design in 2017 and have spent the subsequent years building the brand and their friendship.

Thanks to their work at Enactus, Fadwa and Amal soon realized they could complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, with Fadwa being the more outgoing, creative, and boundaries-pushing of the two, while Amal, ever the engineer, is more pragmatic and loves a well-oiled process, taking care of production and making sure everything runs smoothly. Despite IDYR's successful growth, there were times of course when the challenges of entrepreneurship put the friendship to the test.

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“There have definitely been times when we wanted to throw each other out of the window,” Fadwa reminisces with a smile, “Amal struggles with my chronic procrastination, and I struggle with her overly democratic approach to decisions, always wanting to dissect and discuss everything, but whenever we have been on the brink of giving up, we asked each other the all-important question: do we really want to lose each other as friends over this?”

Thankfully for them - and us, who get to enjoy their beautiful products - the answer has always been no.

IDYR’s Funniest Moment: “Both Amal and I are very camera-shy, and it took us three years before we managed to take a well-shot picture of us together. The photographer was starting to lose hope!”

IDYR’s Top Tip: “Patience. Don’t try to change your business partner, accept them for who they are. Also, make sure you both bring something to the project that goes beyond completing tasks - that is what will make your business bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Quinta Quema - Valeria, Dulce, Angelica, Ana Carolina and Diana

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What happens when you put together five young, entrepreneurial, creative industrial designers, who also all happen to be women? Quinta Quema, the funkiest ladies ceramics collective in Mexico City, comes to life of course!

Diana and Angelica had known each other since high school and decided to continue their studies together at U.N.A.M. University, where they met the three other masterminds forming part of Quinta Quema today, Dulce, Ana Carolina, and Valeria.

After three years of University and with their degree in hand, the five knew the industrial design world was going to be competitive, especially as women. Bound by a strong entrepreneurial spirit and the common desire to build a design studio of their own, they found strength in unity.

Valeria was the first to suggest they capitalize on their friendship cemented over years of classes, essays, and practicals. Each of them came up with a product and they attended Mexico Design Week to launch themselves to the world as Quinta Quema, literally meaning “fifth burnish” in Spanish, a name inspired by the process behind making ceramics.

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Diana remembers with a cheeky smile that the beginnings were hard. “The fact that we are all designers was definitely a problem to start with - we all wanted to design and be creative all at the same time, and it mostly turned into a mess.”

With time though, they settled into their natural roles, discovering what each of them was better at: Valeria deals with Production, Ana works on their social media, Angelica takes care of sales, and Dulce and Diana attend to the nitty-gritty of actually administering a business.

With five sets of eyes, brains, opinions, and tastes to compete, taking decisions can be tricky, so Quinta Quema operates with a strict democracy-only policy: as long as a majority of three agrees on something, the decision is taken.

“We set that rule out at the beginning, so whenever we see a fight coming up about a design or anything else, we just put it to the vote and save ourselves a lot of time and stress.”

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Starting a brand and a business is an exciting but scary prospect, and having your close friends to bounce ideas off with and support each other at the hardest times was definitely a plus. “We started off selling to friends and family first, but we all knew the real test would be whether complete strangers would take to our products and start buying.”

Waiting for those first few orders at the beginning was nerve-racking, and the girls were all happy to have each other, to break the tension with a laugh and a joke. “Of course, the other side of the coin is that we are all super driven and tend to work overtime a lot, none of us is very good at telling the others to take a break.”

Quinta Quema’s Funniest Moment: “We’ve known each other for nine years now since we were eighteen or thereabouts… There’s just too many to even remember!“

Quinta Quema’s Top Tip: “Go for it. Working with friends can be harder from some points of view, but the rewards - and the laughs - are immense!”

Tamga Jewels - Fatima & Nisrine

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Fatima & Nisrine of Tamga Jewels have known each other for ten years, during which they completed a Business Management & Economics degree, moved to separate parts of Morocco, traveled together around and outside of the country, and managed to set up a jewelry business working in tandem with master artisans in Tiznit.

Despite the physical distance after their degree, Fatima and Nisrine stayed in touch and it was in 2018 over one of their meetings that, both frustrated with the way their lives were going at the time, they took matters into their own hands.

“It started as the tiniest seed of an idea. We both wanted to create something of our own, and jewelry had been a shared passion for years, so we set off to find artisans to work within Tiznit, the cradle of silversmithing in Morocco.”

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After some diffidence on the artisans’ part in seeing two young women leading a jewelry business - historically a male practice in Morocco - Fatima, and Nisrine managed to find the right people to work with, created some early prototypes of their designs, and Tamga Jewels was born.

In a testament to their beautiful friendship, they named the brand after the stunning Tamga National Park they had visited together, when the crystal-clear waters of the Ahansal River, the grandeur of the gorges, and the splendor of the park’s gigantic rock formations had struck a deep chord and cemented their intentions.

“We’ve really grown up together with our business, and sometimes it’s very difficult to distinguish between work and personal life,” Fatima laughs, “I can’t actually remember the last time we had a conversation that was entirely not about Tamga Jewels!”

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From more haphazard beginnings when both were doing a bit of everything to the incredibly well-organized team they have become, Fatima and Nisrine have developed from fledgling entrepreneurs to empowered businesswomen and creatives.

While Nisrine is the dreamer of the duo, Fatima is the more realistic one, always thinking about the practicalities and how they will accomplish whatever it is Nisrine has dreamed up. “Being the more realistic one who often finds herself saying no can be very challenging at times, but over the years we have developed top-notch communication, and we both know when to insist and when to take a step back and compromise.”

Tamga Jewels’ Funniest Moment: “When we looked for artisans to work with, neither of us wanted to be the first one to speak, so we always played rock, paper, scissors to decide!”

Tamga Jewels’ Top Tip: “Communication. You need to be able to speak your mind without fear of hurting your friend, otherwise, you will get stuck and spend the whole time managing emotions. Separating friendship from business is very hard, but very important.”
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